Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Alex's First Cookies!

This past weekend, my 2-year-old nephew Alex baked cookies for the first time! With my help :) He has had his own play kitchen for almost a year, and loves whipping up fake food for us to eat (he even often seasons his creations with salt and pepper, without our suggestion). I figured it was about time he become my adorable little sous chef, and help me cut out some fun sugar cookies. This recipe comes from the "Crisp and Crunchy" chapter of Martha Stewart's Cookies, which is perfect for making cookies that will be cut into shapes, and can easily be decorated with royal icing, if desired.  They are definitely on the crunchy side (especially if you accidentally over-bake them), which is perfect for cookies that will hold their shape and lend well to decoration. If you prefer big, soft, chewy sugar cookies (that I personally love), I suggest you try these giant old-fashioned ones that are from the "Soft and Chewy" chapter of the same book! You can't cut them into shapes, but they taste delicious!

Alex's first cookie ever! A deformed star :) It's missing one of its points, but it's still perfect!

I decided to keep things simple, and offered my nephew Alex a variety of cookie cutters to choose from. I simply sprinkled cinnamon-sugar over the raw cookies before baking, for a light sugary touch with a hint of cinnamon speckles. This is probably the most casual way to dress up these cookies, and if you want to take the time to make royal icing, mix various colors, decorate the cookies, and then allow them to dry overnight before serving, then by all means, I hope you will! I didn't really have the time to do that this time around, and also I think Alex isn't quite old enough to pipe royal icing by my side, but perhaps one of these days he will! I didn't actually make the royal icing recipe below, but it is the recipe from the book so I've included it just in case anyone wants to try it. Also, I halved both recipes, as the one in the book makes a much larger quantity, and also specifies to use 4 to 5-inch cookie cutters, which are larger than any of the ones I own. For more average-sized cookie cutters (about 2 to 3-inch or so) this amount of dough will yield plenty of cookies! We got just under 4 dozen!

Teddy bears, and pigs, and seagulls, oh my!

Sugar Cookie Cutouts
Makes about 4 dozen (2 to 3-inch) cookies
(Adapted from Martha Stewart's Cookies)

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Optional decorations:
Royal icing (recipe follows)
Gel-paste food coloring
Fine sanding sugar

Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl.

Add butter and sugar to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Mix in the eggs and vanilla until well combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Reduce speed to low, and gradually add the flour mixture until combined. Remove the dough to a large sheet of plastic wrap, and flatten into a disc. Wrap with the plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm for 1 hour to overnight.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F with racks in the upper and lower thirds. Let the disc of dough sit out at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes, until it softens just enough to roll it out. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to just under 1/4-inch thick, adding more flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking to the board or rolling pin. Cut out the cookies with a 2 to 3-inch cookie cutter, and arrange them 1 inch apart on parchment paper-lined sheet pans. Roll out the scraps and repeat. Top with cinnamon-sugar if desired, or leave plain to decorate later with royal icing.

Bake, switching pans from front to back and top to bottom halfway through, until the edges just start to turn golden, about 15 to 18 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks.

If decorating with royal icing: tint icing with food coloring, if using. Decorate as desired with the icing, and add sanding sugar on top if you'd like. Allow the icing to set on the cookies overnight. Decorated cookies can be stored between layers of parchment paper in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Royal Icing:
8 oz. confectioners' sugar, sifted
2 1/2 T. meringue powder
Scant 1/4 cup water

Combine the ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until smooth, about 7 minutes. If icing is too thick, add more water; if too thin, beat icing 2 to 3 minutes more, or add more confectioners' sugar a tablespoon at a time. Use icing immediately or store in an airtight container up to 2 days (icing hardens quickly when exposed to air). Beat well with a rubber spatula before using.

Makes 1 1/4 cups


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